The Plum Tree
Michael Czyzniejewski

"Most of them are filled with worms," you tell my parents, the first thing you say to them, allergies making it look like you're weeping.

You in Denver, I stymie the trunk with copper nails, gather the strays, dry them on ledges, count the days till they're prunes.

You say plums remind you of our wedding, and when I ask how, you remember it was apricots, not plums, compote filling our cake, you insisting apricots and plums are basically the same fruit.

The bleeding slowed, I fed you cobbler in bed, asked where we'd spend our next anniversary, you already asleep, sugar crusting your lips, your tongue dashing out for a taste.

A blackbird, plum in beak, lands on the porch, drops the gnarled fruit, flies off, and you bury its pit opposite the already-grown tree, explaining what a waste it would be for the gesture to go unrewarded.

We flew to Oakland, taxied to Saratoga, drank wine for three days, celebrating nine years, your tongue smelling of our back yard, fermenting in my mouth.

The June the boy plummeted from above, broke his neck, a plum with one bite clasped in hand, we were married ten years, long enough to know we'd never have kids of our own, grateful we'd never bear ourselves what we'd have to tell his parents.

In DC, you write how the cherry blossoms remind you of me, of us, but not enough to bring you home.

The trial months away, you text from the bus, wonder if you'd made a mistake, if it was too late; hammer in hand, I let you drive further away, far enough to be too late.

The stump chars with a sizzle, sweet syrup choking the wind, the pile of plums atop popping like corn in a kettle.

Our eleventh anniversary, the last, we fly to Spain, make love nine times in a week, eat dessert after every meal, burn then peel from the sun, both of us knowing we'd make it if only we'd never have to go home.

Pliny the Elder, Roman historian, claimed that apricots were the first plums, found in Mesopotamia, the first civilization, purple emerging centuries later, your boasting emerging much more quickly.

The pit from the blackbird's plum sprouts but I stomp it down, one plum tree in any yard enough, too much.

Michael Czyzniejewski is the author of CHICAGO STORIES: 40 DRAMATIC FICTIONS (Curbside Splendor), and ELEPHANTS IN OUR BEDROOM, a collection of stories (Dzanc). He is an assistant professor at Missouri State University.

Detail on main page from woodblock print by Hiroshige, "Plum Estate, Kameido 1857."

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